The Quiet Traveller: Day 8 – Melbourne

I stumbled out of bed at 6am, blearily stuffed a banana into my mouth, and shut the door quietly as I left the apartment. I had bus to catch. But this bus was not going to a grimy bus station, this bus was going to the Great Ocean Road.

It was still dark outside, and I caught an early morning tram to my chosen pick up location nearby. The tram stopped a few streets away so I had a short walk alone through the dark dawn, which was slightly scary at first, but then I remembered how safe Melbourne was, and that the only danger was drop bears.

The bus arrived about 15 minutes later, and I climbed aboard to greet my driver for the day. And what a top bloke of a driver he was. Shane was a Kiwi living in Australia, and unlike the bus driver described on Day One, he was neither balding or tubby, nor miserable for that matter. As I was the first one on the bus, I was able to have a good chat with him about his life, because just how do you end up driving daily along one of the greatest scenic drives in the world? Sadly, I didn’t write that down. Never let me report the news.

We slowly picked up people over the next hour before heading West along the coast. The highlight of the Great Ocean Road is undoubtedly the Twelve Apostles, a series of sea stacks that are not actually of twelve in number. Some have been eroded away, but there were never twelve to begin with. The phrase Twelve Apostles is a lie. Another phrase that’s a lie? £350m for the NHS. It’s fine, I’m definitely over it.

I was interested to see how the day would go, given that I would be stuck on a bus with strangers for 10 hours. I viewed it as an introvert test run for New Zealand, where I would be stuck on a bus with strangers for three weeks. There was a good mix of nationalities on board, and to my surprise I soon got chatting with a few of them. Karl was an American from Chicago dressed well and truly like an American, with his white sneakers and baseball cap; the uniform of the American tourist. Also on board were several Germans, a Malay couple, three girls from Manchester, and Amy from Maidenhead.

The GRO is a truly spectacular drive, far from the misery of the M25. But as beautiful as it is, the landscape also bears scars from the notorious bush fires which sweep through this region. On both sides of the road I saw blackened branches and logs from the previous incident.

The damaging effects of a bush fire just 3 months ago. Vegetation seen recovering though.

Over 100 homes were lost to the flames during the last fire, which is traumatic for any family, but at Christmas time it’s simply even worse. Luckily, people opened up their homes to shelter those who had lost their own in the aftermath, and earlier this year sections of the road that were closed reopened.

By the time we arrived at the Twelve Apostles, it was still fairly early on in the day, but the popular destination was already bustling with tourists and helicopters buzzing overheard. It was a bit of a battle to get a decent viewpoint, and to move along you had to run the selfie stick gauntlet. Much like on the Skydeck, one wrong move and your head would be lopped from your shoulders. It reminded me of Raven’s final challenge from the popular CBBC show, ‘Raven’.

I found an acceptable viewpoint to enjoy the scenery. It was hard to believe it was real. The stacks looked like an alien world, or a really well done piece of SFX for a sci-fi movie.  I asked Amy from Maidenhead to take a picture of the stacks and me, but it wasn’t til much later that I realised they definitely don’t teach photography in Maidenhead.

*insert joke about being stacked here* Note to self: I’m not so joke doesn’t really work.

One day I shall have to return to get a photo of myself AND the stacks. Cheers Amz.

I was glad to climb back into the bus and the sweet relief of its air conditioning. It wasn’t sweater weather; it was sweaty weather. We were ready to depart when we realised we were missing our Germans. Seemingly unphased by this, Shane began to drive away, much to our surprise. ‘They’ll understand’, he said. ‘They’re German.’

It was at this point that Shane became my joint top bus driver of all time. They understood the values of punctuality and efficiency and so would not be offended, but we stopped a few seconds later to wait for them anyway.

My brief meeting and then separation from my fellow passengers once back in Melbourne made me realise that you can be absolutely anyone whilst travelling, because you’re never going to meet the people you speak to again (unless you want to). So it’s ok to have a quiet day if you want, or chat endlessly if you have the energy. In theory, you can live thousands of different lives. But what I noticed over the course of my adventure, was that because you can be anyone, you become who you really are. And yes, I know that’s something which sounds like it’s been freshly sliced from the Waitrose deli counter and then paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a large box of Carrs crackers.

Day 8: Epilogue

It was about 7pm and I was munching on a delicious burrito after a long day. My cousin had just popped out for something. Crackles, the cat, had decided to come over to the table. I decided to try and Snapchat him, because everyone knows cats make great snap content. I held my phone in one hand, with remainder of burrito in the other. Filming had begun, when suddenly a paw stretched out in the direction of my burrito. ‘NO’, I exclaimed, drawing my arm away from the furry beast. But alas, he stretched out again, seizing the warm tortilla in his firm claws. And with that, he was away, darting across the living room. I gave chase fruitlessly, and at one point I grabbed the what was left of the burrito, but he merely growled at me and clung on to his trophy. I panicked, partly because there was a trail of burrito smothered across the floor, and partly because I wasn’t sure if burritos were part of a cat’s dietary requirements. Luckily, I managed to clean up before my cousin returned, and when he did finally return I discovered cats can eat burritos.

And that’s how a cat stole my burrito.

Track of Day 8 – Smooth Criminal // Michael Jackson




The Quiet Traveller: Day 7 – Melbourne

Today was a bit of a rest day, as surfing had broken my body in the most rewarding way possible. I surfaced at 8am, which going by the timings of recent surfacings could be considered an almighty lie in.

It was Day 7 of my adventures, and so far I was loving life. It helped a great deal that I could retreat to my cousin’s apartment to recharge whenever I had had enough of the city. The only living being I had to interact with there was the cat, and we had some fantastic rapport during the next day which ended up with my food being stolen. If I wasn’t mildly allergic to fluffy animals, I probably would get myself a small mammal to kick back and relax with.  The great thing about pets is that they provide a kind of companionship that doesn’t drain the social energy reserves of an introvert. Obviously it can be taken too far in the form of the crazy cat lady stereotype, and it doesn’t replace human connection, but it’s an useful add-on to the life of an introvert. And yes, I know a dog is for life and not just for Christmas. If anything, a dog is probably at its least useful at Christmas. Have you ever seen a dog help out with the washing up or carve a turkey?

My mission this morning was to find a McDonald’s, because I was just interested to see if it was any different down under (not really), and also because my cousin is a vegan, so his cupboards are full of interesting foods which taste of questionable flavours. But I still appreciated him granting me the freedom to the kitchen. It was simply time to indulge a little.

On the way into the city centre, I decided to have a browse of the NGV, also known as the National Gallery of Victoria. The current collection in this art gallery was some Warhol and Al Wei-Wei, so I thought it was worth a visit whilst I was here. However, I found out you had to pay a fair amount to actually get into their exhibit rooms, so I contented myself with wandering around what I seem to remember was medieval art and religious artefacts.

And then the security guard found me. Because I still had my bag on back, he informed me that I had to return to reception to drop it off, as bags were not allowed into the gallery. This was despite me already walking past him several times, including one time with eye contact, yet he had only just noticed the bag. Worst. Security. Ever.

I said I would visit reception to drop it off, but instead left the building and continued into the city centre. I realised how sinister the British accent can be at this point, as I don’t think he trusted me. But then again I was a lone individual wandering around a public gathering place with a backpack on, so I don’t blame him. I also noticed this when I went up to the Skydeck; I got searched but families with children or medium sized groups did not.

Wandering the Melbourne city centre, I decided to try and find some of the alleyways that intertwine its streets. My cousin had given a piece of advice that ‘if you see a dodgy alley, go down it, because there’s probably a great coffee or doughnut shop at the end of it’. Advice that only applies to Melbourne really – many cities around the world have dodgy alleys that mostly do not end in sugar coated deliciousness, but instead the removal of one’s wallet from their person.

It didn’t take me long to find an alley or doughnut shop. Both sides of the alley were lined with interesting shop fronts and people sitting outside, enjoying life in the world’s most liveable city. The narrow streets and tall buildings really reminded me of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter.

The doughnut chooses the wizard, Harry.

As you’d expect, it gets very hot in these alleyways. And it didn’t help that my hair was getting to its longer stages. It was time for the luscious locks to be trimmed, but the only probably was that my regular hairdresser was 10,000 miles away. Did I want to entrust my flowing mane to an Ozzie barber?

I came across a barber that took walk-ins and walked past it, contemplating my course of action. I then walked past it again. And once more. Part of this contemplation was the decision to actually get my hair cut, and part of it was thinking of conversation topics for the inevitable barbershop smalltalk, which I think is universally detested by a lot of people, not just introverts. Small talk is so ingrained into our society, that you just have to grin and bare it. I would rather have a conversation about the origins of the universe with a stranger than talk about the weather or where I’m going holiday. Although, that’s a lie, I do like the weather chat.

Having finally made a decision, I opened the door of the barbershop and took a seat. I felt like I was taking a big gamble, but I was interested to see if it paid off.

At first, things were going well. The barber seemed to have understood what I told him and had gone about preparing his tools. But then stood there one handed, shaving the back of my head like I was some kind of sheep being made into a woolly jumper. To make matters worse, I didn’t have my glasses on, so I had no idea what it looked like.

He eventually asked what I was up to, as I was obviously a foreigner. Things got mildly awkward when I revealed I was a Tottenham fan, and then he revealed he was a Gooner. You don’t want your hairdresser to support your rival team do you? Especially when they’re entrusted with how you look for the next few months.

Nevertheless, the hair cut actually turned out to be pretty good, and I stepped back into the alley a few degrees cooler and lot of Australian dollars shorter. Inner city haircuts are expensive.

Having completed a frankly intense yet successful social encounter, I hunted down a coffee shop chain called Hudson’s for some quiet. The cafe was fairly empty, and I seated myself upstairs to people watch the customers below. There’s quite an excitement to finding a quiet place in a city. It’s a bit like hunting an elusive prey, gorging yourself on the silence, taking it all in, and then setting off again until the next time. Bodies of water are good hunting grounds, as are parks. Coffee shops tend to be 50/50 – either really busy or really quiet. Bookshops are usually a dead certain.

To cap the day off, we went and sat at a rooftop bar in the evening sun. I liked Melbourne.

Track of Day 7 – Sitting, Waiting, Wishing // Jack Johnson


The Quiet Traveller: Day 6 – Melbourne

It was another early start, but this time an early start with real purpose. We were off to go surfing, which I wasn’t too sure about trying, but looking back, I’m very glad I did.

I’m not a huge fan of the sea and I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world. The usual styles are breaststroke and butterfly etc; I call my style flailingandnotdrowning. So I was quite apprehensive as we drove down to Anglesea on the coast.

However, I fell in love with the sport. And my surfing instructor. This was no ordinary surf instructor. This was an M&S surf instructor.

I consider myself to be of Sainsbury’s level, but on a good hair day, I max out at Taste the Difference. She was a probably a bit out of my league, but hopefully my taming of the wild ocean with nothing but a polystyrene board would catch her eye. If conquering a force of nature doesn’t impress a woman, then what does? I suppose some prefer that stable job, own place and car malarkey.

Anyway, so yes, surfing. I fell in love with it because the feeling when you stand up on the board is very addictive. I know it’s a cliche, but you can really feel the power of the sea. You fight the sea to get out into the waves, and then join sides with it to surf back to shore. Waiting for waves is like waiting for a bus but a million times better, because the reward of the wait is an ecstatic feeling of being alive, whereas the reward for waiting for a bus is an approximate half hour of being shaken and rattled to death whilst inhaling a multitude of human fumes. And waves probably operate on a more reliable schedule.

To my relief, my sea fears were brushed aside when I realised how shallow the sea actually was. And you don’t need to be able to swim that well when you’ve got a board that floats.  And it’s a great way to stay in shape.

It turned out that I was actually quite good at surfing, and this was also confirmed by my instructor. So had I impressed her? With surfing skills, potentially. But by wearing goggles whilst surfing; absolutely not. Any cool surfer vibe I had going for me was spoilt by the fact I had to wear my prescription goggles to actually see anything that I was doing. No surfer in the history of surfing has ever worn goggles, and no one has ever impressed a woman by wearing goggles. They also gave me goggle-tan, so unless she had a panda based fetish, my chances were in the gutter.

After some much needed food, the whirlwind of a Sunday morning came to a close and we headed back to Melbourne. As it was a Sunday, I needed to counter balance the over-activity of the morning, so I decided to go for a stroll in the local park in the once again baking heat. On my way I encountered a fellow Brit who asked me where the nearest pub was. Of course the Brit would be asking for directions to the pub.

I took a seat under the shade of a tree and watched an atrocity unfold before my eyes, that atrocity being the game of cricket. For such a boring sport, there seemed to be a lot of people out playing it. It’s actually quite similar to NFL, in that both sports require headgear and participants spend a lot of time doing very little apart from short bursts of action. I was 10,000 miles from home, but no matter where you go, some things never change. Cricket is still dull.

Boring in action.

Pulling out ‘On The Road’ and reading on a few more pages, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in the book. Of course, reality was a lot less raucous than the fiction of the book, but here I was, on my own, bouncing from city to city on the largest scale of them all – the entire planet.  I also felt like I didn’t quite know who I was yet. It’s another cliche yet again, but the older I get, I do feel more like I’m getting know who I actually am. So I don’t think it’s just ‘Quiet’ that helped me a lot. It’s also age. And cliche part three, I can confirm travelling helps this process.

My moment of serenity in my little restorative niche within the park was then interrupted by a pair of loud infant humans announcing their presence. I’m convinced that the tiny gremlins joined ranks to interrupt my moments of quiet on my travels. More often than not, I would take a seat somewhere in a public place, and then moments later they would be onto me, hunting me down and shrieking in my near vicinity.

I promptly shut my book and strode off into the sunset. The toddlers had won for today.

Track of Day 6 – Let’s Go Surfing // The Drums